Setting the scene
King Robert Baratheon is dead, killed by a cocktail of alcohol, wild boar and treachery. In his place on the Iron Throne, Robert’s heir, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), a malevolent little brat who has had the King's Hand and best friend, Ned Stark, executed on a trumped-up charge of treason.
Stark's daughter, Sansa (Sophie Turner), is Joffrey's unwilling queen, while her sister, Arya (Maisie Williams), has escaped, disguised as a boy, with the help of Night’s Watch recruiter, Yoren (Francis Magee). Meanwhile, their brother, Robb (Richard Madden), is leading a vengeful - and, so far, rather successful - rebellion against Joffrey, the Baratheons and the Lannisters.
Having lost her husband and king Khal Drogo, and all but a handful of her most loyal Dothraki warriors, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is leading her rag tag band through the seemingly endless Red Waste. Her ultimate goal: to reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryens and usher in a new age of dragons.
Episode one recap
As Joffrey celebrates his Name Day with numerous bloody amusements - and Sansa does her best to endure her king and temper his cruelty - the irrepressible "imp" Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) returns to King’s Landing. Much to the chagrin of both Joffrey and his mother, Cersei (Lena Headey), Tyrion has been appointed to act as the King’s Hand in the stead of their father Tywin, who is fighting Robb Stark’s forces.
At Winterfell, young Lord Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is learning the often frustrating job of administering to his subjects (Bran, you may remember, is paralysed from the waist down, pushed from a window by Jamie Lannister after witnessing his incestuous relationship with his sister, Cersei).
A crimson comet arcing overhead is seen as an omen. Some say it tells of a great victory for Robb Stark, some that it represents the banner of his enemies, the Lannisters. Others believe that the colour of blood marks the death of Ned Stark. But Bran’s servant, Osha (Natalia Tena), tells him: “Stars don’t fall for men. The comet means one thing – dragons.”
Speaking of which… Daenerys, her people and her newly hatched baby dragons continue to traverse the Red Waste. As their provisions run low, Daenerys sends her last remaining horsemen off to the four points of the compass, in search of water, aid or whatever they might find.
On the other side of The Wall (the vast fortification separating the Seven Kingdoms from the uncharted land of the Wildings), Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, arrives with his men (including his aide, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), the bastard son of Ned Stark) at the home of Craster (Robert Pugh), a man with the repulsive habit of marrying his daughters (what becomes of his sons we do not know).
This is the real north (if only the southernmost part of it) and it’s clear Craster sees the visitors from the top of the Seven Kingdoms as soft southerners. On their journey here, the Watch passed through six abandoned villages – what has become of the Wildings? "Gone north," says Craster, "to join the army of the King Beyond the Wall." Where is the King planning to take this army? “When you’re all the way north, there’s only one direction to go...”
To the island of Dragonstone, and our first meeting with Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), eldest brother of Robert, the dead king. Rumours are circulating that Joffrey is not Robert’s heir, and Stannis is determined to claim the Iron Throne for himself. In league with the sorceress Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Stannis forsakes the old gods in favour of her Lord of Light and Fire. The extent of her power we do not know but a clumsy attempt by Stannis's old adviser to assassinate Melisandre backfires on him – he drops dead, while she downs the poisoned wine without a flicker. A woman to be reckoned with, it seems. Stannis sends a flock of ravens to share with the Seven Kingdoms the news that Joffrey is the bastard product of incest.
The news reaches King’s Landing, where Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen) makes an ill-advised attempt to use the knowledge against Cersei. “Knowledge is power,” he smirks. “Power is power,” she explains, with the help of four armed guards. But Baelish is off the hook for now - Cersei wants his help in tracking down Ned Stark’s youngest daughter, Arya, potentially a useful bargaining chip in the future.
At Robb Stark’s camp, where a raven has also landed, Jamie “King slayer” Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) remains Robb’s captive. Robb sends peace terms to King’s Landing – he wants the bones of his father returned to him, along with his sisters, unharmed, and for Joffrey and his mother to renounce all claims to the throne, a request he knows will not be granted. Meanwhile, Theon (Alfie Allen), who was raised alongside Robb by Ned Stark, suggests enlisting the help of his father, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), in the battle ahead.
Back at King’s Landing, Joffrey has heard the rumours about his mother and her brother and, after confronting her, sets about taking ruthless Herod-like precautions against the possibility that one of Robert Baratheon’s bastards will lay claim to the throne. Babies, boys and young men throughout the kingdom are slaughtered. But one of Joffrey's main threats, Gendry (Joe Dempsie), is with Arya, safe for now, among the new recruits of the Night's Watch.